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It's Muslims versus Muslims here

Militancy is over but not a 300-year-old rivalry between Muslim communities, at the heart of Rajouri's politics, writes Peerzada Ashiq.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2008 00:23 IST
Peerzada Ashiq
Peerzada Ashiq
Hindustan Times

Last November, when a Sikh girl and a Muslim youth eloped and got married, the matter passed off peacefully in a state where such inter-religion unions are rare, and frowned upon.

But for the past 300 years, such marriages are unheard of between members of the Gujjar and Pahari communities, both Muslims. Animosity runs so deep that there is not a single Pahari-Gujjar couple in the area.

The old hostility plays out in everyday lives, personal relations and politics. The divide has been the only major issue in polls for the last two decades here.

"We don't have inter-community marriages. You won't find one," said Gulzar Mir (45), a Pahari, who teaches in a local school.

Gujjars claim to be the original settlers of the Rajouri district. Its hub of Rajouri town is 150 kilometres north of Jammu.

"We are the first settlers of the area. But Kashmiri Paharis and Rajputs came to this place from the Valley and Pakistan's frontier area, Subha Sarhad and Hazara," said Javaid Rahi, national secretary of the independent Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation.

What further widened the gap between the two communities was the decision to give Schedule Tribe (ST) status to Gujjars, affirmative action on the basis of ethnicity.

The status was granted to the tribe by Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's government in 1991, when the state was under the President's rule.

"Paharis are well educated and well settled, unlike us," said Rahi, justifying the government's decision to grant them ST status.

The move, however, made Gujjars and other communities like Malik and Rajputs in Rajouri district feel discriminated and left out.

"Since (National Conference leader) Farooq Abdullah's mother was a Gujjar, NC governments have always sided with them," alleged Abid Malik, who runs a computer centre in Rajouri.

The ST status to Gujjars has made them helped them get jobs and admission in professional colleges, helping them gain prosperity.

"Don't you think it is strange that we eat the same food, live in the same area and speak the same language but are not eligible for the ST status?" said Muhammad Ayb Mir, a Pahari, who runs a shop in Darhal town. "Militancy is over in our area but not the divide."

The divide has always played on the polls in the district.

It is so deep that in the 2002 assembly polls, a Hindu independent candidate, Puran Singh, won the elections from Darhal because of the divide.

Hindus form just five percent of the 1.3 lakh voter population of Rajouri.

"To keep a Gujjar candidate at bay we voted for a Hindu," said Mir, a Pahari.

First Published: Nov 10, 2008 16:16 IST